Refugees, asylum seekers protest immigrants' deportation at Rautatientori Railway Square in Helsinki, Finland on March 11, 2017. Photo: Shutterstock.

Migration diet of populism versus migrant attraction in Finland

Populist movements and parties have been successful in gaining support by tapping into people’s emotions, fears, and grievances, and by promoting simplistic and often divisive solutions to complex problems. As long as these underlying factors exist and are not effectively addressed, populist movements are likely to continue to emerge and gain support.

By Ilkhom Khalimzoda

Contemporary populism has become a prevalent and polarizing topic in modern-day politics. Populist movements and parties have gained significant momentum in recent years, and their impact on the political landscape is undeniable. Populism has risen to prominence in several countries, such as the United States, Italy, Hungary, and Finland, as a response to globalization, inequality, and economic crises (Mudde, 2019). The topic of populism represents a significant shift in political dynamics, characterized by a rejection of political elites, a focus on emotions and identity, and a disregard for democratic norms (Weyland, 2018). 

In Finland, the populist movement gained momentum with the formation of the Finns Party, formerly known as the True Finns Party, in 1995. The party is primarily known for its anti-immigration stance, Euroscepticism, and opposition to globalization (Kuisma, 2019). The party’s early success was limited, but it experienced a significant surge in popularity during the European migrant crisis in 2015 (Salmela & Jungar, 2019). The Finns Party received 17.7 percent of the votes in the parliamentary election in 2015, making it the second-largest party in the parliament (Kuisma, 2019). 

Anti-migration discourse is a central theme of populist movements and parties in Finland. Populists use anti-migrant rhetoric to appeal to voters’ fears of losing their jobs, cultural identity, and safety (Kuisma, 2019). Some parties have been particularly vocal about its opposition to immigration, advocating for strict immigration policies and the expulsion of migrants with a criminal record (Kuisma, 2019). Party’s anti-immigrant stance has also been criticized for being xenophobic and racist (Jungar & Peltonen, 2018). 

Populist movements and parties benefit from the fear of the “other” by capitalizing on people’s anxieties and grievances. Populists use identity politics to create a sense of belonging among their followers, and they often blame migrants and minorities for the economic and social problems facing the country (Mudde, 2019). This strategy allows them to deflect attention from the underlying causes of these problems and instead offer simple solutions that appeal to voters’ emotions.

Polls have suggested that there is a significant level of anti-immigrant sentiment among the Finnish public, while others have shown a more positive attitude towards immigrants. For example, a survey conducted by the Finnish polling firm Taloustutkimus in 2019 found that a majority of Finns believed that immigration had a negative impact on Finland. The survey found that 55 percent of respondents believed that immigration had a negative impact on the economy, while 65 percent believed that it had a negative impact on social cohesion. Additionally, the survey found that 62 percent of respondents believed that the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Finland should be reduced. However, other surveys have suggested that Finns are generally more positive towards immigrants than these results might suggest. For example, a survey conducted by the Finnish National Agency for Education in 2020 found that 72 percent of respondents believed that it was important to promote multiculturalism in Finland, and that 70 percent believed that the country should be more open to accepting refugees and asylum seekers. Anti-migrant parts of the population are more likely to vote for populist parties. According to a survey conducted by the Finnish National Election Study, voters who expressed negative attitudes towards immigrants were more likely to vote for the Finns Party (Jungar & Peltonen, 2018). The study also found that the Finns Party had the highest share of anti-immigrant voters among all political parties in Finland. 

The anti-migration discourse in Finland has created a negative perception of the migrant population, leading to discrimination and exclusion in society (Salmela & Jungar, 2019). In the recent study, it was found that immigrants believe they are perceived more as a threat than a benefit to Finnish society (Nshom et al., 2022). The discourse has also contributed to the stigmatization of migrant communities, which has resulted in a lack of integration and social cohesion (Jungar & Peltonen, 2018). This dynamic perpetuates a cycle of fear and resentment, leading to further polarization and division. 

What Does Populism May Do to the Talent Attraction Attempts of Finland?

Finland has introduced a new immigration act, which is intended to make the immigration process more efficient and straightforward for migrants. It has launched a global marketing campaign to attract talent to the country, called “This is Finland” (Business Finland, n.d.). The campaign showcases the country’s quality of life, innovation, and business opportunities (Business Finland, n.d.). Additionally, various programs aimed at integrating willing residents with foreign backgrounds into mainstream society have been taking place. One potential explanation for Finland’s continued efforts to attract skilled workers is that the government is attempting to balance the economic benefits of migration with the political challenges posed by populist movements. Some researchers argue that policies promoting economic growth through migration can help mitigate populist backlash by addressing the underlying grievances of voters, such as job insecurity and economic inequality (Givens & Luedtke, 2020). These attempts have been affected by the populist rhetoric, as the anti-immigrant discourse has created a negative image of the country in the eyes of the potential migrants, argues Jylhä & Leinonen (2021). 


Populist movements and parties have been successful in gaining support by tapping into people’s emotions, fears, and grievances, and by promoting simplistic and often divisive solutions to complex problems. As long as these underlying factors exist and are not effectively addressed, populist movements are likely to continue to emerge and gain support.

The dilemma of growing populism and skilled worker attraction is not unique to Finland alone, as many other countries also face similar challenges. What is different is the specific context and characteristics of the Finnish society and economy. Finland, with a relatively small population, traditionally relied on exports and innovation for economic growth. In recent years, Finland has been facing demographic challenges such as an aging population and declining birth rates, which have created a need for more skilled workers to maintain economic growth and ensure the sustainability of the welfare state. 

Furthermore, many populist groups in Finland have been particularly vocal in their opposition to immigration, especially from non-Western countries. This has often taken the form of opposition to refugee resettlement and asylum-seekers, rather than opposition to skilled workers. However, populist groups in Finland (and elsewhere) often frame their opposition to immigration in terms of protecting domestic jobs and economic opportunities, which could potentially extend to opposition to skilled workers as well. But overall, it is more common for populist discourse in Finland to focus on refugees and asylum-seekers as a perceived threat to national identity and security. This has created a tension between the need for skilled workers and the political pressure to restrict immigration. Therefore, the specific context and characteristics of the Finnish society and economy make this dilemma somewhat unique, and it requires careful consideration and balancing of economic and political priorities.

It is important to note that the impact and influence of populism can be mitigated by promoting inclusive and participatory democratic institutions, strengthening social cohesion, and addressing the root causes of economic and social inequalities. While populism in a way is a legitimate form of political expression, reflecting the concerns and the grievances of a segment of a population (Mudde, 2019), anti-migration populism discourses are concerning. Especially so when it is polarizing, black-and-white, and often based on distorted facts and figures. This takes further the climate of us-and-them, prejudice, and division (Weyland, 2018). The negative perception of migrant communities perpetuated by the discourse can lead to discrimination and exclusion, which undermines social cohesion and appeal of new talents into the country. 


— (n.d.). “This is Finland.” Business Finland. (accessed on February 25, 2023).

— (2019). ”Maahanmuuttajien vaikutukset suomalaiseen yhteiskuntaan.” Taloustutkimus Oy. 

Givens, T. E. & Luedtke, A. R. (2020). “The Economic Benefits of Immigration: How the Biden Administration Can Use a Strategic Approach to Promote Growth, Innovation, and Inclusion.” Progressive Policy Institute

Jungar, A. C. & Peltonen, J. (2018). “The Rise of Populism and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe.” Journal of Democracy. 29(2), 16-30. doi:10.1353/jod.2018.0020 

Jylhä, K. & Leinonen, E. (2021). “Attracting talents and retaining them: A case study on the Finnish immigrant experience.” Geoforum. 118, 93-102. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2020.12.009

Kuisma, M. (2019). “Populism in Finnish Politics.” In: R. Heinisch, C. Holtz-Bacha, & O. Mazzoleni (Eds.), “Handbook of Political Populism.” (pp. 1-19). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Mudde, C. (2019). “The Study of Populism as a Way of (not) Studying Democracy.” In: C. R. Kaltwasser, P. Taggart, P. Ochoa Espejo, & P. Ostiguy (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Populism. (pp. 96-114). Oxford University Press.

Nshom, E.; Khalimzoda, I.; Sadaf, S. & Shaymardanov, M. (2022). “Perceived threat or perceived benefit? Immigrants’ perception of how Finns tend to perceive them.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 86, 46-55.

Nshom, E. (2022). “Perceived threat and support for right-wing ideology in Finland.” Acta Sociologica. 65(1), 43-54.

Salmela, M. & Jungar, A. C. (2019). “The institutionalisation of populism in Finland: An analysis of populist actors and their discourse.” Acta Politica. 54(1), 22-44. doi:10.1057/s41269-018-0104-9

Member of the EU Parliament in the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists Eva Kaili gives a keynote speech during an event about Financial regulation in EU in Brussels, Belgium on June 25, 2018. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

Corruption scandals: A rather narrow window of opportunity for populists? 

In populist rhetoric, corruption is an obvious indication of institutional decay generated by the ‘corrupt elites’ and affecting the interests of the pure people.’ More specifically, the causal path could be described as follows: Corruption exacerbates political polarization by promoting the idea that the economic elites control the agenda-setting process and shape government politics in favor of their own interests, leading to representational inequality. Yet, is always an anti-corruption crusade the shortest way for populists to come to power?

By Marina Zoe Saoulidou*

The ‘war against corruption’ has, diachronically, been the flagship of populist parties and an inherent part of both their rhetoric and election promises. The examples of politicians who instrumentalized the high perceived levels of corruption in their electoral campaign in order to rally support for their political agendas are abundant; Donald Trump in the United States, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Victor Orbán in Hungary, to name but a few (Porcile & Eisen, 2020; Haughton et al., 2020). The same goes for Greece, where the left-wing SYRIZA, both in 2012 and in 2015, fiercely denounced ‘the corrupt political elites and crooked bankers’ (Smith, 2012) and pledged to fight against “a political system that supports corruption and collusion” (Tsipras, 2015).

In populist rhetoric, corruption is an obvious indication of institutional decay generated by the ‘corrupt elites’ and affecting the interests of the pure people.’ More specifically, the causal path could be described as follows: Corruption exacerbates political polarization by promoting the idea that the economic elites control the agenda-setting process and shape government politics in favor of their own interests, leading to representational inequality (Gilens, 2012; Elkjær & Baggesen Klitgaard, 2021; Bartels, 2017; Drutman, 2015). This, in turn, opens a window of opportunity for populists, which present themselves as the only defenders of people’s interests and promise to restore good governance and the ties of trust with the political institutions. Additionally, the fight against corruption serves as a means for populists to be differentiated as newcomers from the established parties and to stylize themselves as outsiders that fight for voters’ interests (Kossow, 2019; Engler, 2020). In any case, the strength of their anti-corrupt message is positively affected by the levels of corruption in the country (Hawkins et al., 2018) and the levels of social inequality (Uslaner, 2008; Loveless and Whitefield, 2011), as their combination bridges institutional and economic grievances. 

Yet, is always an anti-corruption crusade the shortest way for populists to come to power? The answer is not so clear-cut, even in countries that traditionally score highly on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), such as Greece. The country consistently lags behind as far as transparency in the public sector is concerned (Figure 1). It is telling that in 2012 Greece’s score was 36/100; in 2013 was 40/100, while in 2016 —and under the government of SYRIZA— the score remained low (44/100). The data for 2021 is quite similar, as the country’s score is 49/100. Nevertheless, at the moment, neither a populist party that has declared war on corruption rules the country nor this specific issue seems to be more salient than the economy, even since the outbreak of the Qatar corruption scandal, in which the name of Eva Kaili, a Greek MEP, is involved, as well as the ‘Patsis case’, which is related to the expulsion of a New Democracy MP, Andreas Patsis, as a result of having professional activities that were not consistent with the status of the MP.

Figure 1: Corruption in Greece (2012-2021)

Source: Transparency International. Note: 0=highly corrupt; 100=very clean

The Salience of Corruption in Greece

In particular, though the public debate in Greece over the last weeks is monopolized by the recently disclosed ‘Qatargate’ scandal —as it is widely referred to in the media— and the ‘Patsis case’, none of them figures at the top of citizens’ list of concerns. Put differently, at a time when the political confrontation is mainly based on which party can more efficiently combat corruption; this issue does not seem to be of great concern to the voters. 

This is evidenced by the data of a newly published report compiled by the public opinion research company Marc(fieldwork: 16-21 December 2022) which, among other things, showed that the three biggest concerns of the respondents are the “high prices/ price increases” (81.3 percent), the “national issues/Greek-Turkish relations” (41 percent) and the “criminality/violence” (37.2 percent). Contrarily, the ‘Kaili case’ and the ‘Patsis case’ are of high concern for only 9.5 percent and 5 percent of the interviewees, respectively.

It is also interesting the fact that the most popular answer among the voters of all political parties (voting intention) to the question: “Who do you think is most affected by Eva Kaili’s case?” was Greece (35.2 percent) and not the political system in general or even Kaili’s party of origin, namely the PASOK (19.2 percent). Furthermore, in the midst of political confrontation centered on corruption, 38.2 percent of the survey participants believe that it is the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis (leader of the center-right party ‘New Democracy’) who can better handle issues of corruption and transparency and not Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing populist SYRIZA (36 percent).

The findings in a series of Eurobarometers are also similar. In the Standard Eurobarometer 77, for instance, which was carried out while the so-called ‘Lagarde List’ scandal was in the headlines, 66 percent of the respondents answered that the most important issue that Greece was then facing was its economic situation, 57 percent of them responded that the major problem of the country was the unemployment and 20 percent believed that Greece’s biggest problem was the government debt. 

Similarly, 40 percent of the respondents indicated as their main concern —on a personal level— during that period the economic situation in Greece, 30 percent indicated the levels of unemployment, 29 percent the financial situation in their household and 26 percent indicated the rising prices/inflation in the country. 

Figure 2: Greek voters’ concerns during the Lagarde List scandal (July 2012)

Source: Standard Eurobarometer 77 (Spring 2012).

These observations, of course, do not imply that corruption is an irrelevant factor regarding the increase of demand side of populism. Rather, they indicate that we should be very cautious when we —arbitrarily— hypothesize that the politicization of corruption is both a necessary and sufficient condition for affecting the electoral fortunes of populist parties. If voters do not list corruption in their high concerns, to what extent is its political exploitation by populist parties possible? 

On the other hand, if they indeed recognize corruption as a threat to their interests but lay the blame on both mainstream and challenger parties or even reject as a whole the party system, to what extent could the anti-corruption and anti-elite rhetoric of populist parties be translated into electoral gains? The outright rejection of the party system normally translates into ‘exit’ and not electoral dealignment. Therefore, a more refined approach of the theory, which would take under consideration other parameters, such as the institutional system, the levels of clientelism or even the freedom and the independence of the Press, is needed.

(*) Marina Zoe Saoulidou is a PhD candidate in Political Science and Public Administration at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA). Her thesis focuses on the dynamics of both left- and right-wing populist parties in Europe in the context of economic crises.


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Tsipras, A. (2015). Alexis Tsipras’ speech at the nationwide Syriza Conference. ΣΥΡΙΖΑ_ Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς. (accessed on December 31, 2022).

Bartels, L. (2017). “Economic Inequality and Political Representation.” In: Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (pp. 233-268). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Drutman, Lee. (2015). “The Business of America is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate.” Studies in Postwar American Political Development (New York; online edn, Oxford Academic, 23 Apr. 2015),

Elkjær, M. A., & Klitgaard, M. B. (2021). “Economic inequality and political responsiveness: A systematic review.” Perspectives on Politics. 1–20.

Engler, S. (2020). “’Fighting corruption’ or ‘fighting the corrupt elite’? politicizing corruption within and beyond the populist divide.” Democratization27(4), 643–661.  

Eurobarometer (2012). European Commission: Standard Eurobarometer 77. Public Opinion in the European Union. Survey requested by the European Commission, requested and co-ordinated by Directorate-General for Communication (DG COMM Unit ´Strategic Communication´). (accessed on December 31, 2022).

Gilens, M. (2012). Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Princeton University Press.

Smith, Helena. (2012). “Greek elections: Alexis Tsipras – Kingmaker or deal breaker?” The Guardian. June 11, 2012. (accessed on December 31, 2022).

Haughton, T.; Rybář, M. & Deegan-Krause, K. (2021). “Corruption, campaigning, and novelty: The 2020 parliamentary elections and the evolving patterns of party politics in Slovakia.” East European Politics and Societies: and Cultures36(3), 728–752.

Hawkins, K. A.; Carlin, R. E.; Littvay, L. & Kaltwasser, C. R. (Eds.). (2018). The ideational approach to populism: Concept, theory, and analysis. Routledge

Kossow, Niklas. (2019). “Transparency International Knowledge Hub.” Transparency International. (accessed on December 31, 2022).

Loveless, M. & Whitefield, S. (2011). “Being unequal and seeing inequality: Explaining the political significance of social inequality in new market democracies.” European Journal of Political Research50(2), 239–266.  

Porcile, L. & Eisen, N. (2022). The populist paradox. Brookings. March 9, 2022. (accessed on December 31, 2022).

Uslaner, E. (2008). Corruption, Inequality, and the Rule of Law: The Bulging Pocket Makes the Easy Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511510410   

Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro poses with anti-riot police agents after cast their ballot in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil on November 29, 2020. Photo: Antonio Scorza.

A hot January in Brasilia

The “two Brazil” theory is now stressed, as never before. From now on, culture wars will have a civil confrontation dimension. It remains to be seen in what terms and on what scale. From the divided families to the broken country, the march goes on. The thesis of an actual split of the country, a break-up of the Federal Union, is on the table. In a more mitigated scenario, the security forces can prevent the escalation and leave democracy safe, but in a state of permanent alert whose political effects in the Senate are still challenging to predict. 

By João Ferreira Dias*

From the very beginning of Bolsonaro’s presidential path, still in the campaign that led him to the presidency of Brazil in 2018, the former Brazilian president sought to copy Trump’s strategy (Baptista, Hauber & Orlandini, 2022), taking prejudice to the center of the campaign (Martins, 2002). The so-called culture wars (Hunter, 1992) have definitively entered the political arena, perfectly demarcated between (a) the regions that are majority white and expressing animosity toward the North-East, the evangelical sector of society which is transversal in terms of class but dominated by the elites, advocating a conservative turn in terms of customs for the country and the confluence between state and church, and (b) the non-evangelical lower social classes, the progressive left, and the LGBTQ+ and anti-racist militant and activist sectors. In Brazil, it includes the sense of loss of the historical privileges of the Brazilian upper and middle classes, who inherited a form of the social organization of colonial matrix –which Quijano (1997) named coloniality – and did everything to preserve it through the ideology of the state.

The battle for the heart of Brazil took place. The Right radicalized and regimented itself around Bolsonaro, which made use of the corruption that surrounded the PT (Lula’s party) governments to implement the so-called agenda of customs (conservative moral values) and the neoliberal agenda in the economy, with an inclination for privatization and exploitation of natural resources, such as the deforestation of the Amazon. The Ox-Bull-Bible axis (Stefanoni, 2018) created the conditions for Bolsonarism to become vigorous. 

The basis of this strength lies in the middle class, which has always attended the best universities (and which, in some cases, has been overtaken by more able young people from the lower classes due to the social policies of the PT governments), which works in the leading newspapers of the big cities like São Paulo, which saw its capacity to exploit poor labor diminished by the PT’s labor legislation that imposed guarantees on workers. Jessé Souza asks categorically, in The Elite of Backwardness (2017), “how someone who exploits the other classes below her in the form of a vile wage to save time on domestic chores, and supports the indiscriminate killing of poor people by the police, or even the slaughter of defenseless prisoners, can have the nerve to believe oneself morally elevated?”

Now, the intersection between a sense of injustice in the face of the loss of class privilege, the natural displeasure with structural corruption (truly structural, insofar as it is found in the very formation of Brazil as a state), the importation of the most alienated Trumpist conspiracy and populist theories, and the deep messianic belief in a providential leader and an elected people (themselves; Ferreira Dias, 2020), produces a mass of voters with a mission, which because they consider providential owes no respect to the Constitution and democratic rules.

Having rehearsed an ambiguous Trumpist posture of defeat without defeat, Bolsonaro has fed the hosts, letting marinate the belief of electoral fraud, which his party has continued and amplified. 

We can affirm that we are facing a movement of a fascist nature (following the plastic definition of Stanley (2020)) of the caudillo type, which refuses electoral results, does not accept democracy, and wants a single identity for the country (ideology of the nation), centralized in a vital state apparatus, of “law and order,” strongly classist and racial, and deeply conservative-religious (evangelical).

The probable military repression to restore the normal functioning of institutions is no guarantee of the regime’s survival. Lula is seen as an anti-Christ that needs to be defeated, no matter what. The advance of the police could be interpreted as the advance of the Romans on the Christians, and the Bolsonarists could take themselves on as martyrs to their patriotic cause. 

Lula’s speech of reaction to the invasion of Congress, the Planalto and the Supreme Court will do little to heal the situation by reinforcing the fight between Left and Right, by accusing Bolsonaro of being “genocidal,” by forcing social division, and by placing a negative weight on Bolsonarist supporters by calling them “fanatical fascists.” The coolness of state that one might demand has given way to continued social rupture and ideological struggle.  

The “two Brazil” theory is now stressed, as never before. From now on, culture wars will have a civil confrontation dimension. It remains to be seen in what terms and on what scale. From the divided families to the broken country, the march goes on. The thesis of an actual split of the country, a break-up of the Federal Union, is on the table. In a more mitigated scenario, the security forces can prevent the escalation and leave democracy safe, but in a state of permanent alert whose political effects in the Senate are still challenging to predict. 

The precedent of The United States Capitol opened the space for these tumults. What can and should be feared is replication in the West, in the forthcoming elections in several European countries, where populism, many of authoritarian inspiration, claims to be the voice of the people. We must remember the words of Georges Duhamel: “The greatest tyrants of the people have almost all emerged from the people.” For now, Brazil is the ticking time bomb, the most apparent laboratory of the culture wars and ideological alienation. This time it will be the Trumpist sector of the United States that will look to Brazil as a laboratory of potentialities. How the situation unfolds in Brazil will affect the future paths of the more polarized Western democracies.

(*) João Ferreira Dias is a researcher at the Centre for International Studies – ISCTE, Lisbon, in the Research Group Institutions, Governance, and International Relations. He is researching culture wars, politics of identity, and fundamental rights. PhD in African Studies (2016). PhD candidate in International Studies (2021- …). Columnist.


Baptista, Érica Anita; Hauber, Gabriela; Orlandini, Maiara. (2022). “Despolitização e populismo: as estratégias discursivas de Trump e Bolsonaro.” Media & Jornalismo. 22.40: 105-119.

Ferreira Dias, João. (2020). “O Messias já chegou e livrará ‘as pessoas de bem’ dos corruptos: messianismo político e legitimação popular, os casos Bolsonaro e André Ventura.” Polis. 2.2: 49-60.

Hunter, James Davison. (1992). Culture wars: The struggle to control the family, art, education, law, and politics in America. Avalon Publishing.

Martins, Erikssonara Thalessa da Câmara. (2022). O avanço do neoconservadorismo e a extrema-direita no Brasil: uma análise a partir da Campanha Eleitoral de 2018 ao Governo Bolsonaro. Bachelor’s Thesis. Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte.

Quijano, Aníbal. (1997). “Coloniality of power in Latin America.” Anuario Mariateguiano. 9.9: 113-121. 

Stefanoni, Pablo. (2018). “Biblia, buey y bala… recargados: Jair Bolsonaro, la ola conservadora en Brasil y América Latina.” Nueva Sociedad. 278: 4-11.

Souza, Jessé. (2017). A elite do atraso: da escravidão à Lava Jato. Leya.

Stanley, Jason. (2020). How fascism works: The politics of us and them. Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Iranian woman standing in middle of Iranian protests for equal rights for women. Burning headscarves in protest against the government. Illustration: Digital Asset Art.

Mahsa Amini: Women’s bodily autonomy in the context of Islamism and far-right populism

Both Islamism and far-right populism claim power and control over women’s bodies by imposing rules around the hijab. In Iran, women are expected to submit to the regime’s despotism and wear a hijab despite personal preferences. However, in France, under the guise of liberal values, far-right populists are advocating for a ban on hijabs and other religious symbols in public spaces. This antagonism towards the hijab is postured as saving Muslim women from the patriarchy and religious oppression, yet it still robs women of a right to choose.

By Hafza Girdap

Debates around women’s bodies, particularly those of Muslim women, have grown globally in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death under the custody of Iran’s morality police after being detained for ‘improper’ hijab-wearing. For a better understanding of control over women’s bodily autonomy, the concepts of political Islam and far-right populism need to be examined.

The term political Islam, otherwise known as Islamism, ontologically implies resistance against secular and Western systems of governing. Criticizing secular ideologies, political Islam aims to establish a political system based on Islamic doctrines in addition to creating a unified religious identity for the whole of society. In the Routledge Handbook of Political Islam, Shahram Akbarzadeh argues that “much like other -isms, Islamism imposes a normative framework on society in a blatant attempt to make society fit into its mould” (Akbarzadeh, 2012: 1). Being a reactionary movement, which aims to shape society and the state through the agency of religion, political Islam manifests itself as challenging both previous governments and the West. Akbarzadeh cites Mohammad Ayyoob to explain the incentives behind this challenge: “Political Islam gained increasing support as ‘governing elites failed to deliver on their promises of economic progress, political participation, and personal dignity to expectant populations emerging from colonial bondage,” (Akbarzadeh, 2012: 2).

Besides denouncing their regime, Islamists also stand up to the West through the medium of “anti-Americanism”. They claim that all their political opponents are failures because they “deviate” from the divine path. The concerning facet in this approach is the blurry definition of this so-called divine path. In other words, Islamism or political Islam acts as an empty signifier that can be filled with subjective interpretations of Islam. To be more precise, an Islamist leader who claims to be representing divine “sovereignty” can legitimize his practices through a religious discourse that cannot be denied by society since it may appear as resisting divinity.

Akbarzadeh touches on this hypocritical aspect of political Islam; On one hand, actors who hold an Islamist position reject others’ interpretation of religious doctrine on the basis that it is not divine, but on the other hand, these same actors interpret Islam according to their personal interests, like gaining more power. In this case, political Islam deliberately serves to oppress discourse on economy, morality, and authority. According to Akbarzadeh (2012), “the combination of the exclusive claim on divine truth and the capture of political power” gives the authorities a legitimate right which can be hazardous for the society since this power “can easily manifest as acts of violence.”

While Akbarzadeh’s definition of Islamism identifies it with resistance, Esposito adopts the concept of “resurgence” while discussing political Islam. In this lens, it is the combination of “resentment over political and social injustices” and “issues of identity” which merges faith and politics in order to establish an “Islamic revival” (Esposito, 1997). This resistance approach, which strengthens itself with exasperation and revolt against both domestic and Western ideologies, helps governments pave the way for “enhancing their legitimacy and to mobilize popular support for programs and policies” (Esposito, 1997).

However, the state is not the sole actor to reap benefits from Islamism. Social movements and companies that affiliate themselves with Islamic identities also generate opportunities to establish new businesses, such as hospitals, banks, and schools, and work to accommodate their associates in these organizations. The most pertinent point Esposito raises in his article questions “whose Islam” is this and “what Islam” is. The answer concerns the idea of power, which we can find in the hazardous mixture proposed by Akbarzadeh. As such, the compulsory hijab in Iran implemented by the country’s Islamist regime and its enforcement through the support of society can be understood by the aforementioned definitions and discussions of political Islam.

On the other hand, the hijab ban, or alternatively the adverseness against wearing hijab in public places in some European countries such as France, can be seen as representing another disregard of women’s bodily autonomy. In this context, far-right populism and Islamophobia have had a significant role in shaping public discourses against the hijab. As a result, it is necessary to shed light on the seemingly discordant approach in the far-right discourse on the subject. By “framing Islam as a homogenous, totalitarian ideology which threatens Western civilization” (Berntzen, 2021: 11), the far-right, for this issue, appears to abandon its traditional, radical, authoritarian attitude and move towards a more liberal, modern, rights-based strategy. Such a strategy focuses on presenting a liberal attitude and liberal optics by a “transformation as a partial decoupling between authoritarianism and the radical right through an adoption of liberal positions on many issues” such as free speech, democracy, gender equality” (Girdap, 2022). The framing of the discussion surrounding the hijab in France and similar environments needs to be understood in the context outlined above. In addition to this, we must take into consideration the issues of racism and radicalization in Europe in terms of Islamophobia and gendered racism.

Crystal Fleming, in her book Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France, describes France “not only as a racialized social system but also as a racist society for at least three reasons. First, racial bias is embedded within the nation’s institutions… Second, racial categories and stereotypes are prevalent in everyday life…. Finally, present-day inequalities are related to historical racial categories and openly racist practices rooted in colonialism and slavery” (2017: 8-9). Far-right populist discourses frame Muslims as inferior and second-class citizens through a colonialist ideology entrenched in the country’s system and society. This structural frame impacts Muslim women to a greater extent as their religious identities are more visible and claims over gender equality are more easily conducted through the hijab debate.

In conclusion, reflected in Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and discourse around women’s bodily autonomy, political Islam (Islamism) on the one hand, far-right populism on the other both claim power and control over women’s bodies using hijab as a proxy. In Iran, through compulsory hijab, women are expected to submit to the regime’s despotism and wear hijab despite personal preferences, no matter what. However, in France, under the guise of liberal values, far-right populists are advocating for a ban on hijabs and other religious symbols in public spaces.  This antagonism towards the hijab is postured as saving Muslim women from the patriarchy and religious oppression, yet it still robs women of a right to choose. 


Akbarzadeh, Shahram. (2012). Routledge Handbook of Political Islam. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Esposito, John L. (1997). “Claiming the Center: Political Islam in Transition.” Harvard International Review, vol. 19, no. 2.

Fleming, Crystal M. (2017). Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Girdap, Hafza. (2022). “Liberal Roots of Far-Right Activism – The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century.” ECPS Book Reviews. European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). January 24, 2022.

Hirschkind, Charles. (1997). “What Is Political Islam?” Middle East Report, no. 205.

Then-presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva walks among supporters on Augusta Street at São Paulo on the eve of the Brazillian election on October 1, 2022. Photo: Yuri Murakami.

Culture wars in a fragmented Brazil, a guide to understanding what happened in Brazilian election

First of November brought Lula’s reelection as President. He won but did not win. The results leave the country in the same polarization and without any chance of reconciliation. Brazil is a country without communicating vessels. If the social situation will not escalate into civil war and Lula da Silva takes office within the (minimum) regular functioning of institutions, Brazilian democracy will enter its most decisive chapter since the end of the dictatorship. However, the challenge is Herculean because what is at stake, from now on, is to save democracy from its most terrible ghosts.  

By João Ferreira Dias*

Francis Fukuyama (2018) discussed how resentment became the wood for the fireworks of populist radical right parties amid the rise of identity politics. While the left abandoned the material struggle for better work conditions, adopting the so-called woke post-material agenda, focusing on the specific feelings of oppression felt by the minorities groups, the right followed the same path, moving from a liberal market agenda – based on the demand for “less state” in the market – to a nativist agenda (Zúquete, 2018) based on the intersection of whiteness (race), nationalist, religious moral and the resentment of being left behind from rural areas and an urban working class that experienced a gradual loss of earnings. The combination of those elements was crucial for Brexit and Trump’s election (Mondon & Winter, 2019). 

So, the struggle between a globalist left and a nativist right frame what is called “culture wars.” The concept borrowed from the German dispute between Bismarck and the Catholic Church in the 19th century (kulturkampf) is related to a dispute about nonnegotiable conceptions embodied in cultural and moral spheres such as abortion, sexual rights, racism, and the place of religion in daily politics, educational and public affairs (Hunter, 1992). This has all to do with the Brazilian political situation and the last two presidential elections. 

Two Brazil and Country of the Future (That Never Came)

Stefan Zweig once called Brazil “the country of the future.” Alongside racial equality – there named racial democracy – that future never came. Brazil remains a promise, part of a fulfilled growth in the BRICS promise. This is not due to capitalism as a global exploitation system (Christian, 2019). Brazil is a country that does not know or trust each other, a country of deep contrasts, barely connected by the nationalism of Vargas’ authoritarian regime, the development impetus of President Kubitschek and the modern and integrative vision of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. 

Despite Cardoso’s efforts, Brazil remained a giant with clay feet, with a significant part of its population remaining in a fragile situation, like those described in Jorge Amado’s novels. The dispossessed that Collor de Mello tried to galvanize against the “marajás” (maharajas) returned through Lula da Silva, electing a president who linked the workers’ struggle to business guarantees and was caught up in the corruption plot, a reality endemic in Brazil. 

The zeitgeist, populism, was essential in 2018’s Brazilian elections (Reno, 2020; Tamaki & Fuks, 2020). Brazil elects a compulsorily retired military man, nostalgic for the military dictatorship, whose hero, Brilhante Ustra, was the greatest torturer of that period. The President’s name is Jair Messias (meaning Messiah) Bolsonaro, a federal deputy for Rio de Janeiro between 1991 and 2018, with no relevant political work, famous for sleeping during Senate debates. His discourse of hatred of Northeasterners – a collective figure that in the popular imagination represents laziness – blacks, homosexuals, the arts and culture, and the left, combined with a campaign of disinformation and fake news (Maranhão Filhos et. al., 2018). like never experienced, was essential for his election. Still, as a candidate and then as President, Bolsonaro divided the country like never before. Under the guise of the fight against corruption, which he managed to portray as an “invention” of Lula da Silva’s party, were wrapped up post-material issues that formed the culture warswhich determined not only his election but the election of Donald Trump, from which the Bolsonaro team (essentially commanded by the latter’s sons) drew inspiration. Thus, a Christian moral wave, especially evangelical, swept the country against abortion, “gender ideology,” and “cultural Marxism.” The struggle between a progressive, black activist, feminist, LGBT+ country and a country linked to white supremacy, the heritage of the colonels, historical racial privileges, and a conservative morality gained centrality (Stefanoni, 2018).

The Evangelical Factor 

Streets of favela Vidigal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 30, 2015. Photo: Donatas Dabravolskas.

Culture wars have been the core of Brazilian politics since 2018. To understand what is at stake, one needs to understand the role of religion in Brazilian society and the combination of evangelical spiritual combat (Da Silva, 2007) alongside white medium-class supremacy/privileges. 

The abolishment of slavery in Brazil in 1888 did not solve any structural problems in Brazilian society, remaining a place of coloniality (Quijano, 1997). The Constitution of 1824, in the advent of the republican era, was erected in an intellectual atmosphere of biological and cultural racism; disposing of that African heritage thus presents a danger to social development, contaminating from bottom to top. Therefore, taking advance of the scientific perspective of the time, the marginalization and persecution of African descendants and their cultures were established via the law. We can still see it in Law nº 6.001 of 1973 concerning the native status, typified as a minor that may be emancipated. The decades of 1930 and 1940 were intense in religious persecution against Afro-Brazilian religions, with the Catholic Church taking a position, defending a circumstance of spiritual combat against them, from 1950 to 1970 (Ferreira Dias, 2019). 

Meanwhile, in 1960, Canadian pastor Robert McAlister arrived in Rio de Janeiro and founded the New Life Church, the first neo-evangelical church in Brazil. His target was the low classes from the favelas. However, he realized that Afro-Brazilian religions were deeply disseminated among them. Contrary to the Catholic church, which defended the illusion of those religions and their “fake gods” and entities, McAlister adopted a different and effective strategy. While recognizing their power, he places the source of their strength in the Devil. Thus, their god (Orisha, Vodun, Inkice) and their entities are no longer a delusion of primitive thought but the manifestation of the Devil, evil forces that must be fought. 

From there to today, spiritual combat gained visibility and increased severely. In some locations in Brazil, the adherence to these neo-evangelical churches is 100 per cent. Pastors became powerful and wealthy via the theology of prosperity, which advocated that whatever is given to the church and the pastor will be doubled (Gabatz, 2013). They bought television channels and newspapers; they created a chain of power from local communities to the Parliament. The most preeminent of these Churches is the Universal of Bishop Edir Macedo. With time, they created an Altar Gladiators army devoted to fighting Afro-Brazilian religions and practitioners. Religious terrorism became part of daily life in Brazil, with the support of relevant politicians (Santos, 2012). 

Culture wars against the globalist left, classified as cultural Marxist, reached their apogee with Bolsonaro’s candidacy in 2018, with his evangelical agenda against minorities’ rights, universities, democracy, and the rule of law (Ferreira Dias, 2020). 

Lulas Reelection and What Comes Next 

First of November brought Lula’s reelection as President. He won but did not win. The results leave the country in the same polarization and without any chance of reconciliation. It is a country without communicating vessels. The Senate remains strongly Bolsonarist. São Paulo elects, and Rio de Janeiro re-elects, governors of the same tendency, with Haddad, Lula’s potential successor losing in São Paulo territory and running out of political capital for the future. 

Despite Lula’s victory in court, the narrative of the president-bandit prevails among the white, evangelical, and middle-class electorate. Suspicions of corruption, militia formation and human rights violations in the Bolsonaro do not demobilize his highly-regimented electorate. Once again, Brazil is an adapted copy of the US. Even though Lula has the support of moderate evangelicals and much of the economic and business elite, a fact that makes any fantasy of Venezuelization of the country (which never occurred) impossible, the truth is that the cultural battle against the so-called “cultural Marxism” in favor of an evangelical hyper moral and class rights alienates the Bolsonarist electorate, which survives well without Bolsonaro, since he is an ancient historical and social product that has always been alive in Brazil. 

Predictably, the pro-Bolsonaro popular militia is taking the streets, claiming electoral fraud, and asking the army to take control of the country. Meanwhile, some of the world’s top leaders have rushed to recognize Lula’s victory, signaling that he is the desired interlocutor. The same happened with figures close to Bolsonaro, such as the governor of São Paulo. The transition is underway peacefully after Bolsonaro realized that he would not have desired civilian support nor from the military. The Head of the Civil House, Ciro Nogueira, the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes (great ideologue of neoliberalism in Bolsonaro’s government) and Geraldo Alckmin, Lula’s Vice President and man of the center-right, have started the transition process. Democratic institutions seem stable and secure. 

Nevertheless, Brazilian democracy will enter its most decisive chapter since the end of the dictatorship. Lula will need to (i) establish agreements that allow him to govern, which seems possible with the enlargement of his political platform, (ii) be impolite, (iii) purge the party of corruption, (iv) find mechanisms to combat poverty and violence, (v) restore the rights of minorities that have been suspended, without making this his cultural agenda, (vi) correct the social and state asymmetries in the best possible way, aiming at a continuous process of balance and approximation of the country, (vii) prepare the succession by encouraging the other parties to find democratic and qualified cadres that guarantee a healthy political alternation without a populist and cultural war approach. The challenge is Herculean because what is at stake, from now on, is to save democracy from its most terrible ghosts. 


(*) João Ferreira Dias is a researcher at the Centre for International Studies – ISCTE, Lisbon, in the Research Group Institutions, Governance and International Relations. He is conducting research on culture wars, politics of identity and fundamental rights. PhD in African Studies (2016). PhD candidate in International Studies (2021-). Columnist.



Christian, Michelle. (2019). “A global critical race and racism framework: Racial entanglements and deep and malleable whiteness.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 5.2: 169-185.

Da Silva, Vagner Gonçalves. (2007). “Neopentecostalismo e religiões afro-brasileiras: Significados do ataque aos símbolos da herança religiosa africana no Brasil contemporâneo.” Mana, 13: 207-236.

De Albuquerque Maranhão Filho, Eduardo Meinberg; Coelho, Fernanda Marina Feitosa & Dias, Tainah Biela. (2018). “Fake news acima de tudo, fake news acima de todos: Bolsonaro e o ‘kit gay’, ‘ideologia de gênero’ e fim da ‘família tradicional’.” Correlatio, 17.2: 65-90.

Ferreira Dias, João. (2020). “O Messias já chegou e livrará “as pessoas de bem” dos corruptos: messianismo político e legitimação popular, os casos Bolsonaro e André Ventura.” Polis, 2.2: 49-60.

Ferreira Dias, João. (2019). “’Chuta que é macumba’: o percurso histórico-legal da perseguição às religiões afro-brasileiras.” Sankofa. Revista de História da África e de Estudos da Diáspora Africana, 22: 39-62.

Fukuyama, Francis. (2018). Identity: The demand for dignity and the politics of resentment. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

GABATZ, Celso. (2013). “Manifestações religiosas contemporâneas: os desafios e as implicações da teologia da prosperidade no Brasil.” Revista Semina,12.1: s.p. 

Hunter, James Davison. (1992). Culture wars: The struggle to control the family, art, education, law, and politics in America. Avalon Publishing.

Mondon, Aurelien & Winter, Aaron. (2019). “Whiteness, populism and the racialisation of the working class in the United Kingdom and the United States.” Identities, 26.5: 510-528. 

Quijano, Aníbal. (1997). “Coloniality of power in Latin America.” Anuario Mariateguiano, 9.9: 113-121. 

Renno, Lucio R. (2020). “The Bolsonaro voter: issue positions and vote choice in the 2018 Brazilian presidential elections.” Latin American Politics and Society, 62.4: 1-23.

Santos, Milene Cristina. (2012). O proselitismo religioso entre a liberdade de expressão e o discurso de ódio: a” guerra santa” do neopentecostalismo contra as religiões afro-brasileiras. MA Thesis. Universidade de Brasília. 

Stefanoni, Pablo. (2018). “Biblia, buey y bala… recargados: Jair Bolsonaro, la ola conservadora en Brasil y América Latina.” Nueva Sociedad, 278: 4-11.

Tamaki, Eduardo Ryo & Fuks, Mario (2020). “Populism in Brazil’s 2018 general elections: An analysis of Bolsonaro’s campaign speeches.” Lua Nova: Revista de Cultura e Política, 109: 103-127.

Zúquete, José Pedro. (2018). The identitarians: The movement against globalism and Islam in Europe. University of Notre Dame Press. 

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud party. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

Civilizational populist Netanyahu’s election victory and rise of Religious Zionist Party in Israel

Netanyahu and Likud return to power as Israeli voters usher in perhaps the most right-wing government in the nation’s history. The government will be dominated by parties of the center-right and far-right including Likud, the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the Religious Zionist Party. Even if the new coalition government collapses within the next year or two, it would not cause a reversal of any of the long-term trends in Israeli politics. Rather, the further decline of the Israeli left and the continued rise of right-wing populism and religious nationalism seem all but inevitable as the population grows more religious over time.

By Ihsan Yilmaz & Nicholas Morieson

In one of the most consequential elections in Israel’s history, Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud return to power as Israeli voters usher in perhaps the most right-wing government in the nation’s history. 

While the previous government was made up of parties from across the political spectrum, the new government will be dominated by centre-right and far-right parties, including Likud, the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the Religious Zionist Party. The right-wing bloc led by right-wing civilizational populist Netanyahu (Yilmaz and Morieson, 2022a) is expected to win 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament, with Likud winning more than 30 seats and Shas and United Torah Judaism together winning a further 20 seats (Parker & Rubin, 2022). The right-wing populist, ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party also had a particularly good election result. Indeed, if party leader Aryeh Dery was worried that it might lose voters to the Religious Zionist Party (RZP), he was entirely incorrect, as his party won at least 8 seats and got back into the governing coalition (Haaretz, 2022).

Much of the post-election media commentary has focused, perhaps surprisingly, not on the return of Netanyahu but on the rapid rise of the Religious Zionist Party, which emerged as the third largest party in the Knesset, winning as many as 15 seats. What, then, is the Religious Zionist Party? The Religious Zionist Party is a far-right, religious nationalist group created in 2021 when three parties, the Betzalel Smotrich-led National Union/Revival Party, the Itamar Ben-Gvir-led Jewish Power party, and the far smaller Noam party, “formally headed by Avi Maoz but whose real leader was Rabbi Zvi Tao,” merged to form a single party (Hermann, 2022). It must also be said that Netanyahu played an important role in creating the RZP. Desirous of new coalition partners, Netanyahu is said to have personally convinced Ben-Gvir and Smotrich to join forces and form a party capable of winning enough votes to receive representation in the Knesset (Hermann, 2022). Netanyahu’s plan paid off in the November 2022 Israeli elections when the RZP helped propel Netanyahu back into the Prime Minister’s office. 

Itamar Ben Gvir, speaking in election conference at Ale Zahav in Samaria/Isreal on September 9, 2019. Photo: Barak Shacked.

Some commentators have speculated that the RZP’s rise, while seemingly advantageous to Netanyahu, could pose long-term problems for both his government and Israel. RZP leaders – particularly Itamar Ben-Gvir, have a history of political extremism, which may cause alarm among Israel’s allies, including the United States. Equally, it is not yet known whether Netanyahu’s coalition can remain intact without Likud agreeing to some of RZP’s more extreme demands, some of which may prove unpopular with the broader Israeli public. For example, Bezalel Smotrich, a self-described ‘proud homophobe’, wholly represents these extremisms. Among other things, he co-founded an NGO which initiates legal action against Arab construction activities in the West Bank and Israel; told developers in Israel that they should not sell their property to non-Jews; suggested that Arab and Jewish women ought to be separated in different maternity facilities; and expressed regret that Ben Gurion did not expel the entire Arab population from Israel (Gilholy, 2022).

The other key RZP leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has “described Israeli-Arabs as enemies of both Jews and the Israeli state,” once belonged to the now banned violent extreme-right Kach Party, and has “advocated the expulsion of Arab-Israelis who ‘are not loyal’ to the state” (Gilholy, 2022). Additionally, his party supports the deportation of “Arab extremists” regardless of citizenship, including Party Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and the Neturei Karta Jewish antizionist sect, and calls for the annexation of the West Bank by Israel (Gilholy, 2022). The RZP furthermore calls for greater government support for Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, including the “authorization of 70 West Bank outposts, which it calls ‘young communities’, either as new settlements or as neighborhoods of existing ones” (Gilholy, 2022). While Netanyahu is no stranger to controversy, even he might be concerned about the extremism of the RZP, a party Likud now relies upon to hold government. 

What, then, do these election results tell us about Israeli politics and society, and the direction they are heading? Perhaps the first key takeaway from the result is that it conforms to the long-term pattern of Israeli politics in which right-wing parties grow stronger over time, while the left has become progressively weaker. Much of the growth of right-wing power in Israel is due to the success of Likud, the largest right-wing party, and its growing domination of Israeli politics since 1977 when it defeated the ruling Labor Party for the first time (Porat & Filc, 2022). Since the 2000s, Likud has rarely been out of government, and Netanyahu has proven himself to be his generation’s most successful Israeli politician, transforming the Israeli political landscape and reducing the once powerful Israeli Left into a shadow of itself. Yet Likud is not the only right-wing party to have experienced great electoral successes at the expense of left-wing parties. The minority Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews of Israel, neglected by Labor and often living in economic hardship, have increasingly turned away from Labor and toward right-wing religious parties which are dedicated to increasing Sephardi and Mizrahi representation in Israeli politics and society, such as the right-wing populist Shas (Yilmaz and Morieson, 2022b). 

The election results also indicate that right-wing populism remains a powerful force in Israel. Since its populist turn in the 1990s under the leadership of Netanyahu, Likud has used a populist-nationalist discourse through which Israeli society finds itself divided between ‘the people’ (understood as Jewish people who have faced two millennia or more of persecution and now have a homeland they must defend at all costs), ‘elites’ (left-wing parties, academics, activists, and journalists who oppose Likud’s right-wing populism and in doing so allegedly weaken Israel), and ‘dangerous others’ (especially Arab Muslims, whom Netanyahu portrays as intruders in the land of Israel) (Prota & Filc, 2020; Yilmaz & Morieson, 2022c). 

Likud’s key coalition partner Shas is another example of the rise of right-wing populism in Israel. However, Shas divides Israeli society somewhat more narrowly than Likud, finding a divide between the corrupt secular ‘elites,’ ‘dangerous others’ in which they include LGBTQ+ Israelis, and the virtuous ‘people’ of Israel the party claims to represent. This final group is comprised of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, who are portrayed by Shas’ leaders as the authentic people of Israel, and as an “oppressed” people who – with Shas’ help – will one day restore Sephardic culture to “its former glory” (Shalev, 2019).

Another important lesson we might take away from the election result is recognizing the growing influence of religious parties in Israel. It is interesting to observe how, unlike Western Europe and North America, Israelis are growing more – not less – religious. This is reflected in “Netanyahu’s emphasis on Israel’s Jewishness,” which “points to a conflation of religion with the national vision” (Rogenhofer & Panievsky, 2020: 1395). Thus, in Netanyahu’s Israel, “religious language and symbols accentuate fears and shape demands for action, to protect the nation and its borders…consequently, more and more leaders, not only in the Likud, adopt religious tropes and symbols to demonstrate loyalty and garner support” (Porat & Filc, 2022: 74). According to Netanyahu, the secular parties of the left are “detached elites not committed to Jewish nationality and to the Jewish State” and should therefore be considered traitorous and illegitimate (Porat & Filc, 2022). 

Furthermore, the rise of religious populist and religious nationalist parties, including United Torah Judaism, The Jewish Home, Noam, Shas, and now the Religious Zionist Party, indicates a growing desire among many Israelis for a non-secular Israel in which Jewish belief and practice dominate while other religions are marginalized. Part of the reason for the rise of religious parties is the nation’s changing demographics. Once dominated by secular European Ashkenazi Jews, many of whom survived the horrors of the Holocaust, today’s Israel has an ever-increasing Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population which rarely votes for left-wing parties. By 2040, it is predicted that one in four Israelis will be Haredi, largely due to the exceptionally large number of children produced by the majority of Haredi Jewish families (Maltz, 2022). As the number of Haredi Jews increases, it is likely that the right-wing religious parties they typically support will increase their share of Knesset seats and become more significant political actors in Israel. 

Finally, the election results suggest that there will be no return to the ‘peace process,’ nor will there be a Palestinian state in the near future. This, perhaps, hardly bears writing. Indeed, the election results signal a crushing defeat for the Israeli Left and for Israelis who desire a secular state, peace with the Palestinians, and a viable Palestinian state. 

At the same time, this does not mean that the new government has a stable coalition. Rather, there is good reason to think that, should the more extreme RZP demands not be met by the Likud-led government, Ben-Gvir may quit the government, forcing Netanyahu to find another coalition partner or face fresh elections. Yet even if the new government were to collapse within the next year or two, it would not cause a reversal of any of the long-term trends in Israeli politics identified in this article. Rather, the further decline of the Israeli Left and the continued rise of right-wing populism and religious nationalism seem all but inevitable as the population grows more religious over time and increasingly hostile towards non-Jewish people living in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. 



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Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva participates in meetings with women during his pre-candidacy for the presidency of the Brazil in São Paulo on October 3, 2022. Photo: Isaac Fontana.

Lula is back! Third time lucky or will his return lead to the revival of Bolsonaro?

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro to win the 2022 Brazilian elections by a margin of just 0.8 percent. However, he has a huge task ahead of him and it is still unknown how he plans to go about confronting key challenges facing the country. What is certain is that to succeed he is required to recognise and respond to the conservative, nationalist and anti-elite narratives that still dominate public political debate in Brazil. 

By Nicole McLean*

On Sunday 30th October, former President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), defeated far-right incumbent President, Jair Bolsonaro, to win the 2022 Brazilian elections by a margin of just 0.8 percent. It was a tight race, with Lula one stride ahead receiving 50.9 percent of votes and Bolsonaro close behind with 49.1 percent. Despite the socialist’s victory, Lula’s third term in office will no doubt be his toughest. It will be extremely difficult to govern a country that is completely divided. 

Twelve years has passed since Lula last held the presidency. During this time, the country’s greatest corruption scandal came to light under his party, the Workers’ Party (PT), giving birth to a fierce wave of right-wing populism, nationalism, and ultra-conservatism. 

Lula’s strategy was to create a ‘frente ampla’ – a vast front of support. He managed to bring together previous rivals from all sides of politics to overcome Bolsonaro. In perhaps his most tactical move, Lula secured former Governor of São Paulo and former leader of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), Geraldo Alckmin, as his Vice President. This shocked many because Alckmin was a strong critic of Lula and the PT during the investigations into the sprawling corruption allegations. Despite all the lengths that the opposition parties went to in order to topple the Far Right, Lula only managed to win by the tightest of margins. Bolsonarism is far from over. 

Bolsonarism Has Spread Across Brazil Despite Lula’s Victory

In the first round of the elections on 2nd October, Bolsonaro’s party, the Liberal Party (PL), elected 99 deputies from across Brazil. This is almost double the 52 deputies elected to his party in 2018 and can be attributed to the growth in nationalism, social conservatism and, particularly, Evangelicalism. 

The federal deputy to receive the most votes (over 1.4 million) in all of Brazil was the highly conservative and religious 26-year-old Nikolas Ferreira from the state of Minas Gerais. The most voted female federal deputy was conservative and nationalist Carla Zambelli, who was re-elected in São Paulo receiving 12 times more votes than she did in 2018. Both Ferreira and Zambelli were elected to the PL party and are fierce advocates of Bolsonaro, using their various social media accounts as media vehicles to disseminate pro-Bolsonaro propaganda (McLean, 2022). They received immense public support at the polls for their role as political propagandists promoting Bolsonaro, more so than for their own policy ideas. 

The state of São Paulo even elected a Carioca (person from Rio de Janeiro) as Governor, Tarcísio de Freitas who is a conservative neoliberal, over the progressive candidate, Fernando Haddad. Economic freedom and social conservatism are clearly valued more than place of origin in the state that is home to South America’s largest metropolis. To ensure the Far Right does not return to power, Lula needs to listen and respond to conservative views.   

Lula Must Address Concerns of Conservatives to Overcome Far Right

If Lula fails to address the concerns of conservatives, Bolsonaro could revive his political career in four years’ time.Bolsonaristas (supporters of Bolsonaro) are for the most part ultra-conservative and are primarily concerned with the family and traditional values. Lula needs to find ways to portray his party’s progressivism that do not alienate and marginalise conservatives. There must be space in the public sphere for multiple voices and opinions along the political spectrum that are debated in a constructive manner. Otherwise, segments of society risk experiencing social marginalisation, particularly when traditional values are no longer reflected in elite discourse (Gidron & Hall, 2019: 7). 

In 2018, Bolsonaro was elected on an anti-corruption and anti-elite agenda. The far-right President’s anti-elitism targeted the cultural establishment including the media, arts, and education institutions. His dissent was expressed through a discourse of us, “the good citizens,” versus them, “the corrupt elite,” and was populist in nature. The separation of society into two homogeneous and antagonistic camps, where good rivals against evil, is a typical trait of populism (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017: 6). What Brazil urgently needs now is to unite as one, and not be divided into two separate camps, to overcome the severe polarisation that plagues society. 

Another feature of Bolsonarism is nationalism. Certain views of deforestation in the Amazon are a good representation of this. Silvia Nobre Waiãpi, an indigenous woman, ex-army officer and proud supporter of Bolsonaro, was elected federal deputy in the northern state of Amapá for the PL party. She believes that efforts to curb deforestation in the Amazon prevent inhabitants from cultivating and making money off their land. To Silvia, these efforts are North American ideals that are intended to keep people poor. She calls for freedom to make economic profit off the land. 

During the previous PT governments, between 2004 and 2012, deforestation declined in the Amazon and law enforcement was central to reducing illegal logging (Tacconi et al., 2019). These were efforts to half climate change and were supported by the Amazon Fund, to which foreign countries make performance-based payments to the Brazilian government for reducing deforestation. Under the Bolsonaro government, the idea of what the Amazon needed protecting from changed from deforestation to international interference. Addressing these nationalist views, focusing specifically on the people living in the Amazon as well as on property and land rights, should be front and centre of Lula’s mission to stop illegal deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest.

Lula has a huge task ahead of him and it is still unknown how he plans to go about confronting these challenges. What is certain is that to succeed he is required to recognise and respond to the conservative, nationalist and anti-elite values of the Brazilian public. 


(*) Dr Nicole McLean holds a joint-PhD from The University of Melbourne (Faculty of Arts) and University of São Paulo (Faculty of Law). Her thesis analysed the major protest movements of the Brazilian New Right and their impact on the formation of different right-wing publics. As such, Dr McLean’s interdisciplinary study covered the fields of political science, anthropology, sociology, social media and law. McLean is the author of the book entitled Protest Movements as Media Vehicles of the Brazilian New Right which was published in 2022. 



Gidron, N. & Hall, P. (2019). “Populism as a Problem of Social Integration.” Comparative Political Studies, 53 (7), 1027–1059.

McLean, N. (2022). Protest Movements as Media Vehicles of the Brazilian New Right. Palgrave Studies in Populisms. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.  

Mudde, C. & Kaltwasser, C., R. (2017). Populism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 

Tacconi, L., Rodrigues, R. J., Maryudi, A. (2019). “Law enforcement and deforestation: Lessons for Indonesia from Brazil.” Forest Policy and Economics108 (101943), 1389–9341.

Illegal deforestation to make land for agriculture and cattle pasture in Para, Brazil.

A pivotal election: Reversing Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental legacy?

The policies of far-right populist leader Jair Bolsonaro, who claimed that environmental protection “suffocates” the economy, have decimated large swaths of rainforest that serves as a key carbon sink and a haven for biodiversity. On Sunday, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won enough votes to defeat Bolsonaro. “Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula said in a victory speech. He pledged to unite the country and restore the regulatory agencies needed to protect the rainforest and Indigenous lands. However, even if these efforts are successful, the Amazon rainforest’s return to health will take far longer. 

By Heidi Hart

Photographer Sebastião Salgado, known for his sweeping black-and-white images of Earth’s plains, mountains, ice sheets, and sites of environmental destruction, recently spoke out about the presidential election in Brazil. Citing far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s “brutal” policies against the environment (and Brazil’s own people, with staggering numbers of Covid-19 deaths), Salgado noted that “[t]he government has massively destroyed the Amazon rainforest, without respecting indigenous communities and other minorities” (The Limited Times, 2022). Salgado himself, together with his wife Lelia, have been actively reforesting degraded land in Aimores in Brazil for the past 20 years. Restoring 2.7 million trees and 293 varieties of plant species in 555 acres as part of the Instituto Terra project, the couple and over 70 employees offer hope in a country where Bolsonaro’s policies have decimated large swaths of rainforest that serves as a key carbon sink and a haven for biodiversity. 

That hope became a larger reality on Sunday, as former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won enough votes to defeat Bolsonaro, who (as of this writing) has not yet conceded. “Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula said in a victory speech. “Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all our biomes, especially the Amazon forest,” (Lula, Twitter, 2022).

Brazil’s elected President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva and former President Bolsonaro participated in the debate over Brazil in São Paulo on October 16, 2022. Photo: Isaac Fontana.

In the close runoff election, police blockades in Lula-supporting northeastern parts of Brazil led to fears of voter suppression, but a tense Sunday yielded to jubilant celebrations in the streets. Despite a prison term for corruption (later annulled), Lula will return to office and has pledged to unite the country and restore the regulatory agencies needed to protect the rainforest and Indigenous lands. During his previous terms, Amazon deforestation fell by 43.7 percent (2003-2006) and 52.3 percent (2006-2010), while under Bolsonaro, the rate of deforestation increased by 72 percent in favor of “Amazon development serving as a key policy plank” (Freedman, 2022). 

Deforestation in Brazil is nothing new. In the western area of Rondônia, for example, the rate of clearing has been especially rapid: “4,200 square kilometers cleared by 1978; 30,000 by 1988; and 53,300 by 1998” and by 2003, “an estimated 67,764 square kilometers of rainforest—an area larger than the state of West Virginia” (NASA Earth Observatory, 2009). Sounding alarms about the large-scale efforts to push back the rainforest using legal and illegal roads, encroachment by small farmers, and eventually large cattle operations, Brazil’s National Policy on Climate Change founded in 2009 was an attempt to place checks on this rampant destruction. But policy and practice diverged: deforestation rose 215 percent in 2014-15, while official government reports at the Paris climate talks in 2015 placed that rate at only 16 percent (Redy, 2016: 4).  

Enter Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right populist leader who has claimed that environmental protection “suffocates” the economy. Even before he took office in January 2019, Brazil reneged on its offer to host the 25th United Nations Conference of the Parties on climate change in November 2018 (Viscidi and Graham, 2019). By 2020, resulting from changes to the Brazilian Forest Code in 2012 and further loosening of environmental enforcement after Bolsonaro’s rise to power, deforestation in the Amazon rose to the highest rate in a decade, to 182 percent above the climate target established by the National Policy on Climate Change in 2009 (Anderson, 2021: 144). 

In the first half of 2022, the rate of “slashing and burning to raze the jungle” rose 11 percent beyond the past year’s record to a record high of “4,000 square kilometers (1,540 square miles)” (Freitas, 2022). This rate of destruction not only depletes biodiversity and carbon-absorbing tree cover but also raises the risk of wildfires during the dry season, with respiratory threats as a result, and increases the spread of disease due to habitat loss, releasing of pathogens, and favorable conditions for mosquitoes (Kaminsky, 2020). 

In a still fiercely divided country, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to reverse the trend of deforestation, massive fires, and attacks on Indigenous communities, but during the election season he performed poorly (not surprisingly) in logging and palm oil regions such as Roraima (Cowie, Costa, and Prado, 2022). Brazil still faces economic crisis and related social stresses after its mismanaged Covid response, and as Bolsonaro’s party still rules Congress, its support of the cattle industry will make policy reversals difficult (Jones, 2022). How effective Lula’s presidency will be in restoring what has become, in some areas, a carbon source rather than a sink – a tipping point that has ripple effects in accelerating global heating (Knutson, 2021) – is still an open question. 

As climate policy advocate Christiana Figueres has noted, “We have brought our natural world to several perilous brinks from which it may not be able to recover on its own. It is like an elastic band that stretches and contracts normally but if stretched too far will snap” (Figueres and Rivett-Carnac, 2020: 72-73).

At this point in the inexorable global heating trajectory, adaptation, and mitigation, at least, are still possible. In his 2017 handbook for ameliorative climate strategies, Drawdown (referring to bringing carbon back to Earth, with more optimism for “reversing” global warming than sounds workable today), Paul Hawken describes several ways humans can help to restore some level of tropical forest health. These include “mosaic” restoration, which combines forest and agricultural land; releasing land from “non-forest use” to “let a young forest rise up on its own, following a course of natural regeneration and succession,” with protective strategies to mitigate fire risk; and the more aggressive approach of removing invasive plant species and planting native seedlings in their place (Hawken, 2017: 115-116). 

Though governmental policy is crucial to these practices, especially in fraught countries like Brazil, where regulatory agencies have been weakened under Bolsonaro, Hawken notes that “[r]estoration cannot be done in the halls of power alone” and requires local, collaborative efforts (116). Reforestation projects such as Sebastião Salgado’s will continue to make a difference. At the same time, the next several years will be a crucial period for Lula’s administration to listen to Indigenous communities while enforcing environmental policies to block illegal logging and to regulate commercial farming and mining. Even if these efforts are successful, the Amazon rainforest’s return to health will take far longer. 


Anderson, Liana. (2021). “The Brazilian Amazon deforestation rate in 2020 is the greatest of the decade.” In: Nature Ecology & Evolution, Vol. 5, February 2021, 144-145.

Figueres, Christiana and Rivett-Carnac, Tom. (2020). The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis. New York: Vintage. 

Hawken, Paul. (Ed.) (2017). Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. New York: Penguin. 

Kaminsky, Valéria; Ellwanger, Joel Henrique; Kulmann-Leal, Bruna and Valverde, Jacqueline. (2020). “Beyond diversity loss and climate change: Impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health.” In: Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 92 (1), DOI 10.1590/0001-3765202020191375.

Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson is greeted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on October 20, 2022. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

The losers are winning in Sweden thanks to the Sweden Democrats

The 2022 election results from Sweden testify to the fact that the far-right has reached governmental power. The Tidö agreement conveys several illiberal policy recommendations. It seems futile to suggest that the small Liberal party in the government will stop the realization of these policies. The immediate future looks indeed bleak both for Swedish and international politics.

By Anders Hellström*

On October 17, 2022, Ulf Kristersson, party leader of Moderaterna, became Sweden’s Prime Minister. He will lead a coalition government, which apart from his own party consists of the Christian Democratic party and the LiberalsThe losers (in terms of electoral support) can govern thanks to the support of the Sweden Democrats (SD), founded in 1988 by members of the white Aryan movement, the far-right music industry, and neo-Nazism. In this commentary, I will present three arguments behind why this government took office: 1. Crisis framing; 2. Credibility; and 3. Original versus copy.

From Pariah to Mainstream Party

This rather remarkable journey from the murky shadows of the far right as a pariah party to now become a kingmaker in Swedish politics can thus be understood as sign of populist normalcy, according to Cas Mudde (2019). In short, the mainstream has become extreme.

In 2010, the SD crossed the parliamentary threshold, and its members were seated in the Swedish parliament. Since then, the party’s support has continued to increase. After the 2022 elections, the SD has become kingmaker in Swedish politics. The process of normalization has gone on for decades and is clearly not a new phenomenon, when the SD is now the largest opposition party. What were refuted as extremist views on immigration yesterday have become accepted as mainstream ideas today –common-sense knowledge shared by much of the public, by respectable mainstream politicians, and by editorial writers.

According to Mudde (2019), despite their many differences and failure to communicate a joint common message, the populist parties and movements could be seen before as normal pathologies and normal counter-reactions. Following Mudde’s genealogy of the development of far-right parties in Europe, the advent of the current wave follows from the eruption of three crises that the far-right parties, electorally, have profited from (ibid: 20). These are the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Great Recession of 2008, and the refugee crisis of 2015.

The Swedish National Elections of 2022

Let us begin by returning to the national elections Sweden held on September 11 of this year.

According to the editors on a volume about the mainstream right and the populist wave, Tim Bale and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (2021:11) explained that the mainstream right — although divided between liberals, conservatives, and Christian democrats — hold two main attributes in common: 1. all inequalities in society are natural; and 2. defending existing norms and values is intrinsic to a liberal democratic society. 

Moderaterna (19.1 percent of the vote, down 0.74 percent from the last election) adheres to liberal economic policies and usually rallies against high taxes and — in their view — too much public spending. Additionally, the party also espouses conservative values of national defence and the family. Their emphasis in the election campaign was centred on “law and order” — frequently associated with immigration — and investments in nuclear energy. The Christian Democratic party (5.34 percent of the vote, down 0.98 percent) has, traditionally, focused on social welfare. The third party in the government coalition, Liberalerna (4.61 percent of the vote, down 0.88 percent), is internally split between a fraction propagating for high levels of foreign aid (similar to the Christian Democrats), protecting the right to asylum, and generally progressive ideas against a faction who wants to replace the Social Democrats at any costs. The latter fraction won. 

Bale & Kaltwasser (2021: 1) begin their book on the mainstream right in crisis by noting that Social Democracy is in decline, while the populist radical right has gained a massive amount of electoral support, especially following the refugee crisis of 2015. While the second assertion is at least partly right (I will return to this later), the first statement does not apply to the Swedish national elections of 2022. The Social Democrats became by far the largest party, with 30.33 percent of all electoral votes (up 2.07 percent from the 2018 elections). 

This is confusing. How is it possible that the losing parties are now going to run the country? The answer lies in the results from the far-right party, the Sweden Democrats (SD) who won 20.54% of the vote (up 3.01%) — fewer votes than the Social Democrats but more than Moderaterna. The SD will not take part in the government but is part of Kristersson’s winning team and supports him as the new prime minister.

In the negotiations, the SD was successful at having their own policies elevated into governmental policies (specifically through the Tidö agreement) without having assigned seats in the new government. For instance, foreign aid will decrease, there will no longer be a special department devoted to environmental issues, the quota of refugees to Sweden will decrease from 6400 annually to 900, repatriation programs for immigrants will be encouraged, family re-unification will become harder, and a wage demand will be introduced to limit labour migration. Immigrants also risk expulsion if they misbehave and do not live up to Swedish norms. All these proposals can be found in the election manifesto of the SD and will now become official governmental policies. 

Jimmie Åkesson is Happy

SD Leader Jimmie Åkesson is happy. He should be. He appears to have attained a golden seat: not being part of the government but having achieved almost all his party’s political goals without having to take full responsibility for the consequences. The party can remain a radical underdog; at the same time, it can have most of its policies implemented by other parties. Jimmie Åkesson leads, but Ulf Kristersson will be ultimately responsible. 

How did this happen? Of course, we cannot foretell the results yet without resorting to speculation. But we can look at what has happened in other countries. Not being part of the government has been detrimental to the Danish People’s Party (currently 3 percent at the polls). Being part of the government has been detrimental to Italy’s Matteo Salvini (party leader of the League), who was deputy minister and interior minister; his party won only 8.9 percent in recent parliamentary elections, clearly beaten by the newly elected prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, whose party Brothers of Italy won approximately 25 percent of the votes. Salvini was in the previous Italian government, whereas Meloni was not. What we learn from this, is that it can be good or bad for a far-right party to be in the government.

Reasons for the Electoral Outcome

We do not know what will happen in the future in terms of electoral support for the SD. But I will now present three reasons for why the SD has continued to gain electoral support.

First: The political agenda centred around gang violence and fuel prices. Even if the crime rate in many categories has declined according to statistics presented by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, the number of murders has increased significantly. More policemen and tougher stances on law and order have been suggested by almost all the parties. If it was depicted as extreme to link this development to immigration and integration ten years ago, it is seen as rather mainstream today. This emphasis on law and order — rather than on the climate crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic, NATO, or the illegitimate Russian invasion of Ukraine– has most benefitted the SD. 

Second: When Ulf Kristersson says that the SD was right and warns the Swedish people of the lethal consequences of a generous immigration policy, he also says that a vote for the SD is a credible option. And though other parties now mimic his tone, why should voters prefer the copy over the original? 

Three: As mentioned before, all parties present in the new coalition government experienced electoral losses in 2022. Ulf Kristersson, for instance, could have focused on more traditional mainstream right views, like the economy, but he did not. Instead, he continuously linked deplorable murder rates with immigration. When Ulf Kristersson barks, Jimmie Åkesson gains votes. 

Hope on the Horizon

It is easy and perhaps also understandable to become puzzled and dispirited about the recent political developments in Sweden. But I would say that there are several reasons to hope

First, a lot of things have changed. Sweden does not look the same today as it did in the past. Society is dynamic and this requires continuous reflection, as well as reconceptualization of the analytical instruments and categories needed for studying contemporary European societies. What became apparent– not least with the refugee crisis of 2015– was the rise of both progressive and regressive forces (Bevelander & Hellström 2019), which cling on to meta narratives of both nostalgia and hope (Norocel et. al 2020). 

This isn’t the first-time events have changed values. The resistance to value changes in post-Industrial societies, as a result of the 1968 student protests, was labelled by Ignazi (1992) as the “silent counter-revolution,” which he associated with the rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen and la novelle droite (the new right) in France in the early 1970s.[1]

Second, the crisis, which dominated the electoral campaign in 2022, was based on law and order and the link between criminality and immigration. This link became normal to voters. The climate crisis has attracted massive global attention. In an election campaign, there is only space for one crisis at a time. This brings forward an important lesson: there are several latent crises that might or might not erupt as the crisis in a future election. Empirically, there are many examples of latent movements in Swedish society that want to help refugees to integrate into their new home country (Bevelander & Hellström, 2019). There are examples of countries hostile to immigrants—like Poland—that have become more accepting towards refugees from Ukraine. Additionally, there are today many more companies who would like to invest in fossil-free fuel. According to Margaret Canovan (2005), across history, the “people” has been used as an authority in reserve– “an authority to be drawn on in an emergency…” (ibid: 20).

Third, does the new immigration policy mean a veritable paradigm shift in Swedish politics? The end of Swedish exceptionalism? Maybe – but maybe not. The new policies still need to live up to signed international treaties, such as the Paris agreement and respect the universal and individual right to seek asylum.

The 2022 election results from Sweden testify to the fact that the far-right has reached governmental power. The Tidö agreement conveys several illiberal policy recommendations. It seems futile to suggest that the small Liberal party (which, at the time of writing faces expulsion from the liberal group in the European parliament due to collaboration with the SD) in the government will stop the realization of these policies. The immediate future looks indeed bleak both for Swedish and international politics. What is important to remember is that the future is not set in stone, though. A deeper investigation of progressive elements in civil society shows that there are several emancipatory initiatives and potential latent crises that might pop up and become the crisis in future elections.


(*) Anders Hellström is an associate professor in political science and a senior lecturer in IMER. He is an affiliated member of the research institute Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM) at Malmö University. His research interests include discourse theory and representation of migration, populism, and nationalism. He has published widely in academic journals, such as Government and Opposition, Journal of International Migration and Integration, and Ethnicities. His most recent article is “Populism as Mythology of the People: Anti-Immigration Claims in the Swedish Socially Conservative Online Newspaper Samtiden from 2016 to 2019” (forthcoming 2022) and will be made available to open access. His most recent monograph is Trust Us: Reproducing the Nation and the Scandinavian Nationalist parties. His most recent anthology is Nostalgia and Hope: Intersections between Politics of Culture, Welfare, and Migration in Europe together with Ov. Cristian Norocel and Martin Bak-Jørgensen.


Bale, Tim. & Kaltwasser, Cristóbal Rovira. (eds). (2021). Riding the Populist Wave: Europé’s mainstream right in crisis.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapters

Bevelander, Pieter & Hellström, Anders. (2019). “Pro- And Anti-Migrant Mobilizations in Polarized Sweden.” In: Rea, A., Martinello, M, Mazzola, A. and Meuleman, B. (eds.) The refugee reception crisis in Europe: Polarized Opinions and Mobilizations. Bruxelles: Éditions de l´Université de Bruxelles (available open access). 

Canovan, Margaret. (2005). The People. Cambridge: Polity.

Ignazi, Pierro. (1992). “The Silent counter-revolution: Hypotheses on the emergence of extreme right-wing parties in Europe.” European Journal of Political Research 22. 

Mudde, Cas. (2019). The Far Right Today

Norocel, Ov Cristian; Hellström, Anders & Bak Jørgensen, Martin. (2020). Nostalgia and Hope: Intersections between Politics of Culture, Welfare, and Migration. Cham: Springer (available open access).

[1] Bale and Kaltwasser (2021) provide further elaboration on the silent-counter revolution and the various manifestations of both reactions and counter reactions to this in different countries.

Remains of one of world's largest Joshua Tree forests after the Dome Fire in California's Mojave National Preserve. Blackened stumps and dead trees.

Unlearning the Anthropocene: Readings for Human Humility

Seeking the ways of keeping the world less cruel, if no less dangerous, in the critical decades ahead, Dr. Heidi Hart’s commentary considers books by Annie Dillard, Joanna Zylinska, Timothy Beal, and others in light of the climate crisis and populist fears in a changing world. 

By Heidi Hart

In the late 1990s, before terms like “Anthropocene” and “climate crisis” had become part of everyday vocabulary, I heard American writer Annie Dillard read from her book For the Time Being in manuscript form. This generously ecumenical cycle of prose fragments startled me: here was a writer describing humanity from the perspective of geologic time. The book had equally startling humor, too, even when facing grim facts: “Many of us will be among the dead then. Will we know or care, we who once owned the still bones under the quick ones, we who spin inside the planet with our heels in the air? The living might well seem foolishly self-important to us, and overexcited” (Dillard, 2000: 49). From the excavation of clay soldiers in China to a neonatal hospital ward, from the Qur’an to Kabbalah, Dillard’s incisive vision refuses to reduce human specificity and mystery, while at the same time acknowledging that all of this, too, will pass. 

I return to this book in the burning summer of 2022, having fled the megadrought in the American West and watching in pain as war, water and food scarcity, fires, and floods threaten humans and many other species, and as populist fears continue to drive exclusionary thinking as resources contract across the world. Dillard’s take on humans’ brief, creative, and destructive reign on Earth comes as a welcome contrast to much Anthropocene writing of the past ten years, with all its wrangling over terminology and worry over how we humans perceive ourselves. 

Two more recent books respond to the Anthropocene in bracing and generous terms that remind me of Dillard’s, but from very different perspectives. Joanna Zylinska, a photomedia artist and professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, published a slim but powerful book in 2018 titled The End of Man: A Feminist Counterapocalypse. Noting existing theoretical variations on the word “Anthropocene” (“the Anthrobscene, the Capitolocene, the Chthulucene, the Eurocene, the Plantationocene, and the Technocene,” to name a few [Zylinska, 2018: 5]), this author tests Kate Raworth’s term “Manthropocene” to signal the problem of mostly male climate science panels, Silicon Valley bro-culture neoliberalism, the cult of scientific genius, and Elon Musk-style “planetary messianism” (Zylinska, 2018: 15). 

The End of Man is not the kind of “man-bashing” rant stereotyped in far-right circles but rather an effort to understand how the Anthropocene idea became entangled in gender and race norms that exclude “others.” This occurs either by focusing so much on humankind that other species become tokenized, fetishized, or simply sidelined, or by taking White male cultural norms for granted to the point that even educated thinkers can block movement out of the status quo, if not directly feeding populist fears of the White establishment being “replaced.” Zylinska draws on a key concept developed by science fiction writer Stanisław Lem (perhaps best known for inspiring – and resenting – Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris): the idea of “encystment,” in which “a civilization …  threatened with the loss of control over its own homeostasis … will construct ‘a world within a world,’ an autonomous reality” (Zylinska, 2018: 31, citing her translation of Lem, 2013) that sounds much like what current political commentators would call a “bubble.”

Progressive and regressive “cysts” are not mutually exclusive, however. Just as concerns about organic food and wellness culture can spill from left to right on the political spectrum, sometimes veering into conspiracy or “conspirituality”thinking, the wish to conserve a healthy planet can also feed xenophobic populism and even ecofascism. Zylinska puts it this way: “[t]he progressive politics of degrowth on the planetary scale in the face of the Anthropocene finds, perhaps too easily, its ugly twin in the localized discourses of information and matter overload: cyberterrorism, multiculturalism, immigration flood, the refugee crisis” (Zylinska, 2018: 32). 

As an antidote to Anthropocen/tric end-times thinking that panics over White patriarchal structures at risk of collapse, Zylinska proposes what she calls a “counterapocalypse,” an alternative vision that includes both human-nonhuman “relationality” (a common thread in much feminist environmental writing) and “precarity” (drawing on Anna Tsing’s example of mushroom pickers and others who live without “the promise of stability” [Tsing, 2015: 2] outside privileged capitalist structures). This is not a romantic or naïve approach to “Nature” but an ethical re-orientation that accepts that humans are already “invaded” by the world (Zylinska, 2018: 56).

As Tsing notes, “Precarity is the condition of being vulnerable to others. Unpredictable encounters transform us; we are not in control, even of ourselves” (Tsing, 2015: 20). How different from the fear-based populist stance of barricading or “encycsting” oneself, as war and climate disaster send refugees fleeing for survival, and as other species need habitat protection and restoration as well. Tsing’s idea of the “encounter” recalls Annie Dillard’s recurring sections with that title in For the Time Being, in which she traces, without sentimentality, a shared cigarette and language misunderstanding with a Palestinian van driver, or a moment in the desert when “two humans stand side by side to look at a crab … Who are we people?” (Dillard, 2000: 112). Openness to the “other” is key to adapting to a burning world, where collective solutions must come before rigid or fear-based individualism.    

But what if “we people” don’t actually survive the next century or centuries on a damaged planet trying to return to its own homeostasis?  What if we are one more casualty of biodiversity loss? The Malthusian temptations of a “world without us” may seem grimly appealing (and they do drive some strains of ecofascism), but ultimately humans may not have a choice. The world may well go on, long after we are gone. How to imagine such a future without falling prey to populist fantasies of “other” people going first, or to simple depression that leaves no energy for creativity and care?  

Pointing out that many ages have suffered from apocalyptic anxieties, Annie Dillard finds that fear of death is difficult enough for the human individual, not to mention the whole species. She asks, “Are we ready to think of all humanity as a living tree, carrying on splendidly without us?” (Dillard, 2000: 119). Extending this question to the planet at large, in a posthumanist sense, I keep returning to the word “splendidly.” The image of a thriving ecosystem that may or may not include humans as we currently know ourselves is unsettling but relieving, too. If the image loses its ecofascist utopian edge (of any remaining people looking White and heterosexual in a “pristine” landscape), it reminds me that every day we have on Earth is still worth savoring.

A newly released book takes this view, not from a feminist but from a critical religious-studies perspective. Timothy Beal’s When Time Is Short: Finding Our Way in the Anthropocene argues for appreciation and “deep adaptation” over depression or overly optimistic, profit-driven climate fixes. The book is grounded in biblical thought but seeks to outgrow the “denial of death” that is also “denial of the body” (Beal, 2022: 68) and the exclusions that come from Christian populism (Beal, 2022: 37). Noting that the word “apocalypse” implies “unmasking” (102), Beal calls for honest grief that yields both anger (at White supremacist systems that harm both people and planet) and hope. 

Learning from Indigenous and other traditions that resist what Beal calls “the dominionist strain” of the Anthropocene (Beal, 2022: 122) also helps to encourage respectful relationship with the Earth and the vulnerability to recognize our own small place in it. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s 2013 book Braiding Sweetgrass, which bridges Indigenous knowledge and academic botany, has become a touchstone for ecologists and general readers alike, as a guide to seeing other species as subjectivities in their own right. “In the indigenous view,” Kimmerer writes, “humans are viewed as somewhat lesser beings in the democracy of species. We are referred to as the younger brothers of Creation, so like younger brothers we must learn from our elders” (Kimmerer, 2013: 346). Throughout When Time Is Short, Timothy Beal uses the word “creatureliness” to describe this re-orientation. Like all creatures, we humans exist on Earth for a short time, enmeshed with others and more or less vulnerable to forces beyond our control. Knowing the limits of a lifetime makes that life more precious, as conventional wisdom goes, and there is truth in this. 

Annie Dillard meditates repeatedly on sand, not only in the cinematic desert but also in the “micrometeorite dust” that “can bury you, if you wait,” in the detritus of locust swarms and spider legs, in the rising of the New York City streets (Dillard, 2000: 122-123). If she were writing about rising seas now, about deserts growing where seas used to be, about the floods that carry off small children in Kentucky and the wildfires burning from Yosemite to southern France, she would be as sad and anxious as most other humans. But I sense that she would also note the balance of the fight for what remains and the strange, generous acceptance that comes sometimes at the deathbed. She would note the beauty of a chance encounter with another creature in the woods or on the road. This is how to keep the world less cruel, if no less dangerous, in the critical decades ahead. 


Beal, Timothy. (2022). When Time Is Short: Finding Our Way in the Anthropocene. Boston: Beacon Press.

Dillard, Annie. (2000). For the Time Being. New York: Vintage. 

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.

Lem, Stanisław. (2013). Technologiae. Translated by Joanna Zylinska. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Zylinska, Joanna. (2018). The End of Man: A Feminist Counterapocalypse. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.